MILL VALLEY, Calif. - Proposed federal cuts to social safety net programs are raising alarm among retirees. Almost 100 seniors attended a congressional town hall Thursday afternoon in Mill Valley.
"A lot of people don't have 401ks and don't have money tucked away in the stock market," said U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, whose topic was the preservation of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
The session came as the Trump administration proposes reductions to the programs.
In an apparent contradiction, President Trump said in his State of the Union address he would protect them.
A few days before his budget was unveiled, he tweeted "we will not be touching" them in Fiscal 2021.
Residents of The Redwoods Retirement Community expressed concern and skepticism.
"There are too many old people in this country, and with the AARP, it will never happen," said retiree Stanley Smith.
"It's not so easy to take things away from seniors," agreed retiree Anita Hoffman. "Many times, you'll find them very feisty."
Members of the audience asked numerous questions, seeking reassurance that Congress will block the cuts.
Some also wondered about "Medicare for All", a major campaign issue among Democrats running for President.
"It would be wonderful, but how are they going to raise that money, what is it going to cost?," asked one woman.
Proponents say taxes will go up, but health care will cost households less, and the system becomes more stable with younger people in it.
"Right now it's limited to the oldest, sickest parts of the population and thats a really tough risk pool, it's costly," explained Rep. Huffman.
Many town hall participants say it's important to stay informed, at any age.
"We've been activists all our life and we keep track," said retired teacher Helen Anderson, who worries about benefits for those next in line, such as her own children. "Some are on Medicare now and some are approaching it, so of course they're concerned about it, it's very important."
Anderson organized the town hall, timely in light of the proposed budget cuts.
"I'm not sure we should take them seriously because a lot of people are opposed," said Anderson. "But it's a threat and we just cannot have that!"
Experts say Social Security has an image problem, especially among young people.
"They've been brainwashed to think they will never get Social Security, that they're more likely to see a UFO, and that's not true," said Max Richtman, CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.
Supporters also rebuff the impression it's an entitlement, akin to welfare.
"We all pay in to Social Security and Medicare throughout our working lives, in payroll taxes, we earn these benefits," said Huffman.
The congressman is a co-sponsor of new legislation, H-R 860, aimed at funding Social Security this century by raising the wage cap and gradually increasing withholding amounts.
Seniors agreed, better to strengthen it than slash it.
"It's not welfare, we've paid in all our lives," said retiree Eleanor Leva,, "and it's good that people came to listen to this, I love it!